Sunday, September 28, 2014

Waterjetting 25c - more thoughts on jet range

A single waterjet, whether with or without abrasive, will cut a tapering slot as it penetrates into a target material. This is because, as the jet penetrates into the surface, the outer edges of the jet lose their energy in cutting, and the narrower central core remains capable of cutting, on a continually narrowing path, as the cut deepens.

Figure 1 Tapered cut made with a single jet traverse in contrast with the wider cut made with two diverging jets.

While the above statement is generally true, it is not completely so, since if the speed of traverse of the jet is reduced, then the continued addition of further water along the cut plane will be sufficient for the outer layers of the jet to be able to continue to cut and this may reach the point that there is no taper along the edges of the slot, or it may even taper inwards. For an abrasive jet cutting into titanium, that transition occurs at around 0.2 inches/minute, depending on jet parameters. (Note that this is less related to the target thickness, although it is controlled by the cuttability of that material, and that the critical speeds for cutting with water along are at least one and often two orders of magnitude greater).

Figure 2. Plot of taper angle with traverse speed.

Unfortunately the speed at which the edge is cut perpendicular to the top surface of the target is usually too slow to be economic, and, in consequence, the normal process is to slightly tilt the cutting head into the edge with the desired surface, and making the opposing surface carry an exaggerated tilt. This then allows a faster cut, again with the optimal speed being a function of both tilt angle and jet parameters.

When the objective, however, is to achieve a deeper cut, particularly where multiple passes are concerned, and head movement into the cut is allowed, then a different strategy can be followed.

Back when we were developing the longwall mining machine we called Hydrominer, we used a dual-jet system, because, when cutting coal, the material between two adjacent, concurrent cuts is removed as those cuts are made. Thus the jets, in a second pass, do not make contact with the walls of the cut until reaching the back of the previous cut. (The second image in Figure 1).

Figure 3. Slot cut by the Hydrominer, looking down, and with the slot through which the jets cut out from the head visible on the left edge of the machine.

However, in harder materials, including rock with some degree of cohesion, it is possible to run two jets almost side by side, and leave a rib of material between the cuts, so that jet attenuation in dual cutting is still a problem if the jets are parallel.

Again the answer is to tilt the jets, although if small jets are used, multiple jets may lose in overall range, because of the reduced diameter of the individual streams.

In this case it can be more effective to combine the jet flows into a single jet, but to either orbit or rotate this slightly off-axis so that the jet is cutting a slightly wider track along the path, and with a widening slot with depth, so that, again, subsequent passes, where the nozzle moves into the slot, do not encounter the walls of the cut until the back of the previous cut.

Back in the days when we were first testing the coal mining machine, we were mining coal in northern Missouri, and the coal had a large number of pyrite lenses in it. These lenses could be up to four inches thick, and, while the coal was friable and easy to cut, the pyrite lenses were much harder and dense. They could not be easily cut with the jets, which were operating at 10,000 psi, and the machine was not performing very well.

There were two ways in which we overcame the problem. The first was to adjust the two jets that were cutting the slot into which the cutting head was moving. As I mentioned earlier with a slight divergence angle between the jets, the slot was cut wide enough (around 2-inches) for the leading edge of the head to enter the cut, and the depth (around 9-inches) was enough to give leverage for the head to peel the rib of coal from the solid.

Figure 4. Comparison of results in the field with initial lab-designed nozzle.

When we encountered the pyrite, we changed the angle of the jets, so that instead of diverging the converged at varying distances in front of the head. When the two jets come together at this shallow angle (as with shaped charge formation) they form a very high speed jet, as well as a slower moving wider stream.

When this combination replaced the diverging jets on the head, this higher-speed jet was sufficiently powerful that it cut through the pyrite, and gave a free surface for the rest of the lens to break into. (Depths of cut up to 3-ft were achieved, although the slot was less than one-inch wide). This worked well for the side of the slab that was now liberated, since the jet had broken it free, and the head could move it away from the face, and into the conveyor track.

The only problem that we had at the time, was that the convergent jet was formed in the center of the slot being cut and in the center of the leading edge of the mining head. The slot was no longer wide enough for the head to enter (the converging jet gave a slot about half-an-inch wide IIRC). As a result the pyrite on the solid side of the cut now engaged with the leading edge of the head and stopped progress.

The answer to the problem, which we arrived at over time, was to change the angle of the axis of convergence of the jets, so that, instead of being in the center of the slot, the convergent jet was inclined over towards the solid, and cut into the pyrite just ahead of the outer edge of the mining head. In this way, since the material to the free side of the head was being moved out of the way by the advance of the machine, the jets still cut clearance for the head to move forward. At the time we were only able to get the machine up to a speed of 10-feet a minute, but by taking a bite of 36-inches at a time, we were able to match the productivity of existing mining machines of the period. (The coal seam was 5-ft high). The guard design on the head was also changed to give a sharper edge on the solid side of the machine.

Figure 5. Change in head guards to penetrate pyrite.

Very little work has been carried out on convergent jet systems since that time, which is a pity since it allowed us to mine harder material than the main jet pressure available was allowing us to achieve.

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